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A Radio Broadcast Studio – Acoustical Qualities

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Studio acoustic can be adjusted to the studio use, so what is needed? Whatever the style or music genre, listenership is king! By Edward Veale, Principal, Veale Associates.

The link between station output and listener is content. Differing formats and style attract different listeners. The number of listeners varies over the day with drive times often attracting most.

The statistics for popular stations show that the presenter plays a critical role in capturing and retaining listeners. Listeners also enjoy variety, from music to news and current affairs.

Plays from the music library require no studio acoustic. The presenter, news reader, guest contributor and any live music does require a good studio acoustic – this is so that the listener is able to enjoy and relate to the performance and not be distracted by poor studio acoustic.

Poor studio acoustics fall into several headings, most of which involve one or more of the following:

• Sound isolation
• Background noise
• Noise interference
• Off-mic effects
• Guest voice quality
• Live music sound

So, what may constitute 'a good studio acoustic'? There is not one single quality that categorises a studio acoustic as good but the combination of several qualities and the relative importance will vary according to the style and format of the content or station output. Following are some of those qualities:

• Warmth
• Transparency
• Presenter voice intimacy
• Lack of off mic effect
• No background noise
• Consistency of programme level

There is another factor – comfort. And this is about the studio ergonomics and environment. The most brilliant acoustic will not compensate for items being out of reach, lack of comfort for the presenter and guests, ease of operation, good lighting and environmental control.

How should a broadcast studio be designed? Because buildings, station format and content vary so much there is no single approach and the following is a useful guide:

• Determine what size the studio needs to be
• Survey the studio location for noise ingress (traffic, train, services, etc.) from all sides
• Plan the studio for ergonomics – consider the equipment, presenter, guests and general use
• Is live music to be used in programmes?
• Consider other studios and studio interaction – are windows required?
• Can external windows be introduced for some natural light?

The design process can now begin; size of room, position of console and attendant equipment, space for the producer, news reader, guests for dialogue and guests for live performance. What is the interaction between each and can the presenter be sure of participation and programme precision so everything runs smoothly.

Attention can then be given to external services for cable routes, electric power and lighting, ventilation and air conditioning, windows and doors, and circulation space with exits to satisfy safety and emergency escape regulations.

Once all this is known detail acoustic design can begin and finishes considered. The general appearance and finishes will need to integrate and reflect the image and corporate branding, and could impact upon the acoustic design with the choice and placement of materials.

Within the acoustic design there are stages in the process; first is to eliminate any external noise and neutralise any undesirable qualities of the room shape and size, then to design adequate bass (or low frequency) trapping so the room does not exhibit any 'boom'. Poor low frequency control easily leads to exacerbated off-mic effect, problems in getting a good voice sound from the microphones and messes with the sound of live instruments (often making them sound muddy).

Then attention is turned to finishes, how to avoid too much mid frequency reflections and introduce enough within the desired time domain so as to create a well balanced acoustic with warmth and comfort for the users, and creating something unique for the station.

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